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  • Freedom Bridge (Extracts)
  • Susannah Self (bio)

Freedom Bridge was commissioned and performed by the Birmingham Opera Company in 2017 in Birmingham. The work is a five-minute scena for soprano, violin, and cello.

The scene takes place in 1965 during the Freedom March over Pettus Bridge in Alabama, a march led by Martin Luther King Jr. and organized as part of protests intended to secure voting rights for black Americans. I based the scenario on a firsthand account of the march written by Hella Pick, who reported on the events for The Guardian newspaper.1 Pick, an Austrian journalist who was rescued from Nazi Germany as a child, described the actions of a nun who walked among the marchers; the character of the Marcher is based on Hella's nun. The vocal line builds tension by compressing phrases that are intensified by moving figures in the instruments.

My practice-based research shows how newly commissioned operas continue to be created by patriarchally driven criteria. Plots of traditional and new operas are disproportionately furnished with lead women who tragically die. At the core of their creation is the concept that the composer (male or female) should emulate the values of a nineteenth-century male hero. I propose a new methodology that, through my practice-based research, requires me to interact with audiences at the point of creation. I also passionately engage in creating alternative models for female characters that are defined by their actions rather than by their sexuality.


Scene: A female protester joins the march knowing that previous marches ended in violence. The marcher's feet are blistered; she is burned by the sun and showered [End Page 72] with verbal abuse by counterprotesters. She is afraid but bravely continues. Ultimately, she is moved to compassion for her abusers and draws courage from singing fragments of lines from the poem "The Divine Image" by William Blake. [End Page 73]

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Susannah Self

susannah self trained in conducting, composition, and singing at the Royal College of Music and Cambridge University. She has won scholarships from the Royal Society of Arts, the Banff Center in Canada, and she is currently reading for a PhD in composition at Birmingham City University on a STEAM scholarship. Productions of her operas include The Butt, Musiktheatertage Festival, Vienna; The Boy from Brazil for Tête-à-Tête; and Heroic Women for the Royal Opera House. She will conduct her next opera, Quilt Song, at the Birmingham Old Rep in 2018. Her works include four symphonies; a film commissioned by the Arts Council; and the song cycles Goddess in the Wood and Songs of Immortality, commissioned by the RVW Trust. She is also a successful opera singer and has performed in Lyon, Luxembourg, Salzburg, Lisbon, Strasbourg, Antwerp, and Santiago.





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pp. 72-78
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